When Citibank Philippines, Museo Pambata and Philippine Business for Social Progress jointly organized disaster workshops for primary grade pupils, it seemed like a case of closing the barn door after the horse had bolted.
Some two weeks before, Tropical Storm “Maring” had combined forces with the habagat (southwest monsoon) to flood and paralyze the entire Metro Manila and adjacent provinces. Government, businesses and schools closed down for at least a day, workers and students stayed home trapped by the floods that rendered roads impassable.
But in this country, it is never too late to prepare for disasters, and every day of the year is always a good time to learn how to protect life and property.
The next natural or human-made calamity is always waiting in the wings. In fact, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said last week that “three or four tropical cyclones are expected to enter the country this month.”
With large sections of the country sitting on top or the edge of earthquake fault lines, with communities sprawled beside active volcanoes and with typhoons visiting even during the dry season, Filipinos have to learn vigilance and preparedness as early in life as possible.
So one Saturday last month, as the country enjoyed a spell of good weather, Citi gathered 150 third and fourth graders of its partners Tipas Elementary School in Taguig City and Maliksi Elementary School in Bacoor, Cavite, for two interactive sessions on disaster preparedness and environmental protection at Museo Pambata.
Formally opening the event, Citi country officer Batara Sianturi prefaced his remarks by reminding his young audience and their teachers of the devastation wrought by Maring and the habagat that resulted in loss of lives and huge property damage.
“We want to help you protect yourselves and your family members,” Sianturi said. “I hope you will ask questions so you will learn a lot from the sessions, and then share this with your friends and family members when you go home.”
He encouraged the children to “have fun and learn!”
It was advice the kids had no problem following, as they started the educational activity with a tour of the children’s museum, which many of them and their teachers were visiting for the first time.
And they brought the fun and good humor to the sessions, responding to questions thrown by Museo’s Noreen Parafina eagerly and enthusiastically like game show contestants vying for
Parafina tested what the kids knew about items they encountered every day by asking them how long each item would last before it completely disintegrated.
The children vigorously waved their arms to get Parafina to pick them and clapped and cheered whenever they responded correctly. They showed awe and wonder when they learned something new, like paper not disintegrating instantly but taking up to three months to break down completely.
While the kids were enjoying themselves, it took one question from JC Garcia, a registered nurse and part-time volunteer for the Philippine Red Cross, to remind everyone that the session was really about something much more serious.
Every small hand was quickly raised when Garcia asked who among the audience were affected by the weather disturbance several days before.
Garcia proceeded to explain the various natural and human-made calamities people had to watch out and prepare for and what they needed to do when disaster struck.
At the end of each session, the kids and their teachers received from Citibank “Grab & Go” emergency kits that included essentials like a refillable water bottle, a pair of slippers, a raincoat, whistle and a flashlight.
Information materials handed out included a poster listing the ways people could help protect the environment and avert, or lessen the impact of, disasters. It offered suggestions on what people can do at home, in schools, offices and other places to save energy and food, reduce waste, etc.
Volunteer Citi employees and their families helped facilitate the sessions.
Aneth Lim, Citi country corporate affairs officer, reiterated Sianturi’s wish that participants would share what they learned with their parents, siblings and other members of their communities.